Legal Milestones in the History of Women in Sports Media

Throughout the course of women entering the domain of sports media, there have been two major legal milestones that have set precedents that have tried to foster equality between male and female media members. The first is the passing of Title IX in 1972. It states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation, or be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”. This precedent helped encourage and enable women to pursue careers in sports media-a sphere previously closed off to them- and allowed them legal protection. 

The second was the federal course case: Melissa Ludtke and Time, Inc., Plaintiffs, v. Bowie Kuhn, Commissioner of Baseball et al., Ludtke, who had a media pass as a member of Sports Illustrated, was barred from entering the locker room to interview players by Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Ludtke sued in federal court, arguing that her 14th amendment right to equal protection had been violated. “the Court determined that the Policy violated Ludtke’s fundamental right to pursue a career under the equal protection and due process clauses guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Since the Policy was based solely on sex, the Court stated that it was a clear violation of the equal protection clause. Due to the Policy, male reporters received a substantial competitive advantage over their female colleagues. The Court reasoned that allowing female reporters the same competitive edge outweighed the privacy interests of the baseball players because the clubhouse had not taken sufficient measures to protect the players’ privacy, such as installing doors or shower curtains, without infringing female reporters’ equal protection rights. The Policy also violated the female reporters’ due process rights since it deprived them of their liberty to pursue a career in reporting sports. The Court used virtually the same reasoning as they did in evaluating the equal protection issue, concluding the clubhouse could take less sweeping means of protecting players’ privacy than banning accredited women reporters from the area. Therefore, the Court decided that the female reporters’ right to freely pursue a career, regardless of gender, is guaranteed via the Fourteenth Amendment and may not be deprived without exhausting all means.” (Case Summary: Ludtke v. Kuhn 461 F. Supp. 86 (D.N.Y. 1978))

“It increased enormously the number of young women who came into sports media — as reporters, as employees of sports teams and league offices, in agencies representing athletes and in other aspects of sports work that earlier generations of women had not been involved with, such as working as team trainers or as umpires.” -Melissa Ludtke when asked about the impact of the ruling on journalism.

(“Women Journalists in the 21st Century: Melissa Ludtke”. Journalism & Women Symposium (JAWS) 2016.)